November 28, 2014

Standish forming civil infraction citation process

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STANDISH — City Manager Curt Hillman says people who are warned about blight, illegal yard refuse disposal and violations of other city ordinances are not heeding warnings, and the city could start issuing civil infractions.

Currently, when a resident is in violation of a city ordinance, Hillman said they receive a letter regarding the infraction. However, the process does not always yield results and can cause the city to dip into its coffers before any change comes about.

“With that letter, they get up to 30 days to respond or do something about it,” he said. “Then, if they don’t do anything, we send another letter. Then if they don’t do anything, we hire an attorney.”

Paying an attorney to build a case and represent the city in court if it goes that far, can cost $600 to $800, according to Hillman.

“We’re spending too much money and time just trying to get it done,” he said. “It’d be a lot easier if we could just write a citation.”

“With the budget concerns we’ve got and trying to make ends meet, it’s like, ‘Can we afford to keep paying an attorney and spending that money?’” Hillman said. “And we can’t.”

Ordinance issues pop up year-round, Hillman said. During fall and spring yard cleanups, residents will often times illegally dispose of yard waste, leaving a mess for city workers, he said.

“We’re really going to have very serious conversations about this yard cleanup stuff,” he said. “People are supposed to put it in a bag, at the curb, not in the curb.”

Hillman said instead of putting grass clippings and leaves in bags and setting them out near the curb, oftentimes people just dump lawnmower bags or put leaf piles in the street near the curb. Limbs, which the ordinance says should be no longer than 6 feet and bundled together are also piled up in the streets, Hillman said. It is not uncommon for the yard waste to get into the city’s stormwater gutters, he said.

The winter ordinance issue has been people not clearing the sidewalks in front of their homes or businesses, Hillman said.

“There’s people that want to go for walks on the sidewalks, and they can’t,” he said.

While the city is pursuing a civil infraction-issuing process, Hillman said there are a lot of things to consider, which is why City Attorney Ken Myles is currently sorting out some of the variables. For instance, Hillman said with the blight issue, the city must consider who is responsible when there is a blight violation on a rental property.

“The way we do it now, we send the letter to the landlord,” he said. “Ultimately it’s his house. It’s his responsibility to know what his tenant is doing. Would that be addressed differently with a citation? I guess I’m not quite sure about that.”

Hillman said city officials and council members have been discussing some sort of civil infraction process for about a year.

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